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Photographs and Residential School History

Guided by a committee of former students and intergenerational Survivors, the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA) and the University of Alberta are collaborating on a project about recreation at residential schools and day schools in the Northwest Territories called “How I Survived.” This project is part of the NWTRPA’s commitment to advancing reconciliation by working in the spirit of the TRC.

There are very few written records documenting recreation at residential schools and day schools

in the NWT. To better understand the kinds of activities students undertook and what recreation

meant for them, this project relies on oral interviews, memoirs, and photographs.

The research team is gathering photographs from schools across the territory. Most of the

photographs we have found to date are held in institutional archives, like the NWT Archives or

the Archives of the Anglican Church of Canada. Many of these photographs have been digitized

and are available online.

We recognize that students often did not consent to have their pictures taken while at school,

and most did not consent to have these photographs stored in institutional archives or digitized

and then shared online. When members of the public pay to have these photographs reproduced,

the people in the photographs do not receive payment. They are also not asked for permission to

share the photographs.

We are also aware of the potential emotional cost of circulating and viewing photographs from

residential schools and day schools. While some former students might appreciate the

opportunity to see images of themselves or their friends, for others, these photographs may

trigger painful memories.

This project, at its core, is meant to honour residential school and day school Survivors: to create

a space for them to tell their stories and to celebrate their spirit, resilience, strength, and

creativity. For this reason, we want to ensure our use of photographs in project materials is

ethical, respecting the varied experiences of former students.

When we first wrote a news post about photographs in February 2021, we planned to share

images that we had gathered for two reasons. One, we wanted to identify the subjects of the

photographs. So many images from residential schools and day schools do not include the names

of the students who were photographed. In naming the students depicted in the photographs, we

are countering the erasure of individual students. Two, we wanted to know if there were

photographs that former students would not like shared so we could avoid using them in project


So far, we have only shared a few photographs. We have decided to not share any additional

images, unless we have the consent of the people in the pictures.

These are just some of the steps that we are taking to ensure that our approach to this project is

community-centred and respectful of the varied and complicated experiences of Survivors of residential and day schools. We welcome feedback on other ways that we might honour

Survivors. Please contact the project manager, Jess Dunkin, at or 867-669-


If you are a Survivor or intergenerational Survivor of a residential school or day school and are

having a difficult time, you may find this wellness information helpful.


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